Beijing is stalling in talks with the Holy See, a source close to the Vatican has told the Wall Street Journal.
The paper said that, according to people familiar with the dialogue, a meeting was planned in Rome later this month at which Vatican officials would agree to recognise seven excommunicated bishops appointed by the government – a move that would force two underground bishops to resign.
But Beijing has so far declined to agree on a date for the meeting.
A source familiar with Vatican thinking, the WSJ said, “voiced anger that China had continued to put restrictions on underground clerics – detaining some for several days during Holy Week in March”.
The source told the paper the Vatican was “unenthusiastic” about the agreement but “resigned to it as the best possibility on the table”. Beijing, the source said, was “holding up the process for unknown reasons”.
“‘We thought we had an agreement,’” the source said.
Corriere della Serra reported in February that the Vatican was ready to sign a deal on bishops. A Vatican source told the paper: “From the end of March onwards every day is good to sign the agreement with the Chinese authorities on the procedure for appointing Catholic bishops.”
Towards the end of March there were rumours that an agreement was imminent. Yet, six weeks on, no such deal has emerged.
“Beijing sees a risk of setting a precedent by granting an overseas religious leader a measure of authority, scholars say,” the WSJ reported.
The paper also suggested that China’s crackdown on religious institutions following the introduction of stricter regulations in February had complicated proceedings.
Sister Beatrice Leung, professor at Taiwan’s Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages, said: “It is not a good time for implementation of the agreement.”